Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness Review

Disgaea D2 is the first direct sequel to a Disgaea game — in this case Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.  When I played the original (some ten years ago — my, how time flies) it was a turning point for me as a gamer.  I realized that a JRPG story could be light, funny, yet bittersweet.  I felt the thrill of becoming incrementally stronger and eventually overcoming insanely powerful enemies.  For these reasons (and more I won’t bore you with) I was worried about Disgaea D2 reopening these isolated, perfect memories and, well… wrecking up the place.  After spending quality time with the game, I’m relieved to say that Disgaea D2 enhances both my precious memories and the franchise as a whole.

Story — Yuie.  Yuie, everywhere.

Each story in a Disgaea title is primarily character driven.  The actual events that unfold generally pale in comparison to the secrets, emotions, and telling actions of the characters that fill the game’s ranks.  Disgaea D2 keeps this trend going, by taking the series’ most established characters — Laharl, Flonne, and Etna — and introducing new and unknown elements of their background.

Early in the game, the aspiring Overlord of the Underworld, Laharl learns that he may have a long-lost sister…  who is also an angel.  Angels and demons have dramatically different values — one devotes their existence to love and order, the other power and chaos.  I assume I don’t need to explain which is which (unless you’re a sociopath).

This realization leads to Laharl allowing his (possible) sister to follow him and his rag-tag band of demons around the Underworld.  Along the way, I saw the would-be Overlord slowly warm to his sister, eventually assuming a big-brother role, proving he is more than just a power-hungry maniac.  Seeing character norms broken always makes me smile.

Similar elements of Etna and Flonne’s backgrounds are also introduced, shining a light on what makes them tick.  In fairness, this formula is nothing new to the Disgaea series, but this is the first time revisiting established characters in a meaningful way, so I’ll let it slide.

System — I was born in a pirate ship

I want to meet the person who opened up the Disgaea engine and tweaked the ever-living heck out of Disgaea D2, because they knocked it out of the park.  Sure, it was probably a team of people, but I’d much rather believe it was a lone genius who has become one with strategy RPGs — like the architect from the Matrix.

Team attacks are as powerful as they should be, given that up to four units can participate if in close proximity.  This encouraged me to take advantage of a new affinity system that makes units who stick together in battle perform better together.  A streamlined master/student system allowed me to turn my entire team into warriors, healers, and stat-buffers.  The revamped Item Sea (not world anymore; sorry, geologists) turned slogging through floor after floor into a more enjoyable tower-defense play style — and offered some real-estate free of geo-panel effects.  Multiple evilities allowed me to customize my team, hone them, and come up with fun team combinations.  The list goes on.

 

The updated Item Sea makes Pirate Ship selection more important than ever

More so than ever, Disgaea D2 offers customization and streamlining.  This had me spending less time fiddling with the mundane so I could spend more time becoming stronger, diving deeper into the story, Item Sea, and sidequests.

Presentation — Super Idol Asagi

This is always the category where Disgaea titles lose points when placed under the eye of scrutiny.  I will say that this installment did introduce some new sprites: a female Armor Knight, a male Angel, and a few monster units returning from before the series’ recent graphical overhaul.  There were also re-imagined sprites for both Laharl (as a female) and Flonne (as a cos-player).  This little bit of change went a long way towards making me explore characters I normally wouldn’t.

Now for some complaints.  The opening movie (above) is very choppy — why can’t anime-style videos look halfway decent in video games?  Is it because they’re cheaply made or is it technical limitations?  It also seems to get cut off abruptly in the actual game.

I played a digital version of Disgaea D2, which was graciously given to me by NIS America.  Sadly, the game has frozen on me over a dozen times.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what causes the freezing, and I’ve lost quite a bit of time due to this issue. It’s never a good feeling to worry that the game you’re playing could stop running at any moment.

Conclusion — Refinement

Disgaea D2 refined gameplay down to its purest state, resulting in some of the most solid SRPG gameplay I’ve ever experienced.  A number of much-needed tweaks regarding party maintenance take the confusion out of creating a frighteningly powerful army of your favorite units.  Finally, the story revisits beloved characters with all the laughs and poignant moments we’ve come to expect.  My memories and I couldn’t be happier about how this sequel was handled.

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